Heat vision has typically been the reserve of pit vipers, rattlesnakes and individuals with access to very front heavy goggles. But now in addition to the plans to add micro-circuitry which will allow for a Terminator-esque information overlay to the world, engineers from the University of Michigan have developed an infrared sensor minute enough to install in a contact lens.

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Most current thermal vision goggles have to be as bulky as binoculars, particularly for long range detection, as the current use systems require a lot of cooling to work efficiently. The key to this new technology involves a substance with a single molecular layer carbon structure, called graphene. Being so miniscule allows, it allows the integration into technology such as contact lenses.

However, up until very recently the main stumbling block was to find a way to get enough of a current generated from the light which struck the graphene to stimulate a response. In order to circumvent this obstacle, Zhaohui Zhong and the other researchers started to analyse the current itself, rather than try to use it to generate the power for a signal. They began by putting an insulating membrane between two sheets of graphene, one of which already held an electrical charge. When light struck the non-charged graphene, the little charge which is generated passes through the membrane, leaving behind a signature of positively charged holes which can then be analysed to identify the pattern of light which struck the surface.

The prototype for this technology is already remarkably small, being only the size of a fingernail. If it could be integrated into a contact lens, the applications could be fantastic, and not just for anyone who wanted to try out having a superpower.

For search and rescue, it could be invaluable for finding survivors trapped beneath rubble or snow. Energy conservation could be improved by searching for heat loss in a building with an augmented eye. Paramedics could check for internal bleeding or assess the severity of burns with thermal imaging, and could make driving at night or in low visibility conditions much safer for everyone.